Rather than squeezing in a stop by NPR's Washington D.C. headquarters between tour stops, the rapper Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn't proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.
Behind Dave's British stoicism, you get an up-close look at the honest storytelling and stripped-down vulnerability that earned him a Mercury Prize in the UK for Psychodrama and an acting role in Netflix's crime drama reboot Top Boy. He blacks out, lyrically, with a four-piece band and background singer backing him after sharing the inspiration behind the aptly-titled song "Black" from his opus of a debut. "It's just about the black British experience," he says. "Everyone's experience of being black is a little bit different, but this is my take on it. I wanted to deliver it to the world and here it is for you guys."
But the climax here comes near the end, when Dave takes a seat at the piano to accompany himself while rapping his 2018 hit, "Hangman." In the moment before he plays the opening keys, he pauses to take a breath before channeling the weight of the world through his fingers.
Dave: vocals, piano; Darryl Howell: drums; Aaron Harvell: keys; Markelle Abraham: guitar; Thomas Adam Johnson: bass; Tashera Robertson: vocals
Producers: Rodney Carmichael, Bobby Carter, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, CJ Riculan, Bronson Arcuri, Kara Frame; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR